What caused the yaji hysteria at the TofT headquarters?
The news that in parts of Ghana a good yaji is treated with the same obsessiveness as a good kimchi. Reports that yaji is an aphrodisiac with Viagra-like powers. The description of the spicy sauce (a mix of black, red, and white peppercorns, dried ginger, cloves, dried red peppers) stimulated group salivating,
and stirred us to begin thinking of yaji-marinade bulgogi and yaji-encrusted chicken wings.
Mohammed Naseehu Ali, the author of The New Yorker piece, and a well-regarded short story writer, started the yaji excitement with a description of his childhood in Kumasi, Ghana. In the Ali household, there were two types of yaji. One was the regular, industrial yaji, which his mother used for soups and other staples, and served to all. And then there was a special yaji reserved only for Ali’s father. This yaji was, literally, kept under lock and key in glass cupboard in the living room. In fact, Ali’s mother warned her children. “Don’t even think about opening that jar, you hear me?”
This yaji, Ali later learned, had a secret ingredient called masoro, known in English as “bush pepper.”
Yaji is typically used as a condiment on suya, a thinly sliced skewered beef delicay that is popular on West African roadsides. Ali, who now lives in Brooklyn, described a particularly life-changing moment at a roadside suya stand in Nigeria.
“It has the aroma of a dozen different spices with a long-lasting titillating taste that makes you lick your lips in search of leftover particles.”
The TofT staff are now on a full-APB in search of yaji. Reports to come. If you have access to the NYer, definitely check out the piece.